Rebecca Crossley, a James Paget nurse, has won a prestigious award for her idea of a sensory-friendly Covid-19 vaccination clinic for people with learning disabilities and autism or severe and enduring mental health conditions.

Rebecca won the Learning Disability Nursing category of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Awards 2021 after her unique clinic based in the Waveney area of Norfolk achieved a 99.9% success rate. 

Since people with learning disabilities and autism are six times more likely to die from Covid compared with the general population, Ms Crossley knew it was "essential" that they got their vaccine.

However, since many autistic and learning disabled people struggle with anxiety and sensory sensitivity, she knew it would be a difficult experience for many. 

The clinic achieved a 99.9% success rate

Ms Crossley co-designed the sensory-friendly clinics with the families and carers of those who would be using it, ensuring that those who came for their first dose would return for their second. 

The vaccinations took place in a private room that could be tailored to people's sensory needs. Rebecca also sourced specific materials to improve personal experience, such as toy tractors for a young man who loves tractors.

With these methods, the hospital managed to vaccinate hundreds of people, some of whom had severe needle phobias who had never before had a vaccine.

A great opportunity to keep people with learning disabilities and autism "in the spotlight"

Ms Crossley told James Paget Hospital that she was delighted she won the award: “It’s such a great opportunity to keep people with a learning disability and/or autism in the spotlight,” she says.

“I feel very proud of myself, the teams I work with and of the hospital as a whole. Without the trust’s open-minded approach, the clinic would not have happened. Not all people have access to a clinic like this – we have had enquiries from as far away as Wales, London and Cornwall.”